Fall Survey Results

Each quarter SWPP surveys the workforce planning community on critical workforce planning topics.  Over 170 call center professionals representing a wide variety of industries participated and provided insight into this quarter’s survey on the use of skill-based routing and scheduling.

Survey Participants

Forty-one percent of the respondents in this survey work in centers with over 500 agents.  The rest are representative of a wide variety of sizes from under 50 up to 500 agents.  The insurance and financial industries drew the largest number of participants, but all other industries are also well represented.

Maximum Skills per Agent

Respondents were asked the maximum number of skills that can be assigned to an agent at one time.  Over half (52%) indicated that an agent can have more than 8 skills at once with another 32% assigning 4 to 8 skills.  Only 2% of centers responding assign only 1 skill per agent at a time.

Utilization of Multi-Skilled Agents

When asked if multiple skills can put calls in queue for an agent at the same time, the numbers shifted significantly.  Twenty-four percent indicated that even through the agents may have more than one skill, the calls in their queue can only be from one skill at a time with about one-third allowing more than 8 types of calls to be in the queue for an agent.  This suggests that while agents may know how to do multiple things, they are not always asked to exercise all the skills all of the time.

Levels of Skill

When asked if agents are assigned varying levels of skill to handle each type of call, three-quarters of the respondents indicated that they do assign levels (such as high, medium, low).  About half limit the division to no more than three levels, but 15% reported using more than 10 levels with the others in-between.  A high level of detail can be difficult to manage as agents learn and develop with new trainees coming in to the teams.  Many centers find that keeping the database of skills current is challenging and that limiting the number of skill levels can provide sufficient differentiation to make a meaningful difference in the call routing without being overly complicated.

Use of Call Priorities

The survey further explored the utilization of priorities to place some callers ahead of others in the queue. Approximately 80% of the respondents do assign priorities to some calls with almost one-quarter of centers indicating that more than 25% of the callers are moved ahead of other callers. This high percentage of priority callers can make if quite difficult to provide acceptable service to those who do not have priority and thus can be continually pushed back by new priority callers entering the queue. The level of service provided to callers may vary substantially so that the “average” speed of answer or overall service level will be significantly skewed and deceptive to report what is really being experienced.

Primary Drive for Additional Skills

When asked to identify the primary reasons for the addition of a new skill, approximately one-third expressed the desire to make the best match of customer calls to agents who can handled the call quickly and well. Another third indicated the reason was a limited number of agents trained to handle that type of call. Only 8% chose maximizing the agent comfort level and 5% add a new skill to maximize sales results. Almost one-quarter add skills for reasons other than those on the list of choices in the survey.

Removal of Skills

Once in place, a skill may remain in the routing process for a long time.  However, three-quarters of the respondents indicated that they have deleted a skill in the past while 26% indicated they have not deleted any.  The most commonly cited reason for deletion was removal of the product or service offering.  Approximately half as many indicated they removed a skill when all the agents were trained and there was no more need for segmentation. However, some deleted skills in an effort to achieve a more even distribution of the calls among the agents.  It is certainly common for a skill-based routing design to result in uneven workload when some agents have more and higher levels of skill than others.  This can be desirable in some situations but counter-productive in others.

Implementing Skill Changes in the ACD

More than half (55%) of the respondents indicate that they do not allow anyone outside of WFM to make changes in the skills in the ACD. However, 40% do allow others to make these changes and 5% indicated that they don’t know who has these rights.  Maintaining a match between the schedule and intraday management process with the way that the calls are actually routing is challenging in the best of circumstances.  But when personnel outside of the WFM team can make changes in the routing or agent skill assignment, the synchronization is often broken.

Impact of Changes in Routing

Respondents were asked what impacts they had experienced when non-WFM personnel have made changes to the ACD routing.  Multiple impact choices could be chosen in the survey.  The most common impacts experienced include service improving in one queue at the expense of another, difficulty in making accurate intraday recommendations, and challenges in forecasting accuracy.  However, a significant number indicated that there was no discernable impact.  A strong and immediate communication process around such changes is essential to keeping the process moving smoothly.  Where possible, it is best to allow the power of the ACD to make as many routing/skill changes automatically (one call at a time) as possible.  This reacts quickly to needed changes and returns the settings to normal as soon as the situation is restored.

Closing Comments

Based on the responses above, skill-based routing has been adopted in most centers.  While the agents may have more than one skill on their list, some centers limit the number of different types of calls that can queue for an agent at one time while others allow several types at once and may also have multiple level of skill assigned to the agents.

The assignment of priority levels to calls can add another level of complexity to the routing.  When a significant percentage of callers can push others back in the queue, the lower priority callers may have significantly longer delays.  Analysis of the speed of answer results by skill and level is useful in determining the reality of the customer experience, while using averages can hide significant variations.

The primary reasons for using new skills focus on handling some new offering and/or having only a subset of the agents trained on a specific call type. This offers the center flexibility to bring trainees in and have them handle simple calls first before taking on more challenging work, for example.  The most cited reasons for deleting skills follow this logic as well with skills taken out when the product/service is no longer available or all agents are trained.

The management of a skill-based routing environment can be very complex and figuring out the impact that a single change can have is not easy or intuitive like it is with single-skilled agent teams.  It can be a bit like pushing on one side of a balloon – there is likely to be a bump out another place on the balloon but it is not entirely predictable where it will be.  Simple designs and strong communications plans can go a long way to keeping the WFM process under control.